Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza: Mayweather-McGregor Could Set PPV Records

The boxing match many sports fans fantasized about but never thought would happen is now a reality. Showtime PPV will distribute the Aug. 26 Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor boxing match, a unique matchup between Mayweather, an undefeated 40-year old boxer and McGregor, a 26-year-old UFC mixed martial arts champion.

The 12-round fight, which will be fought at a 154-pound limit – well above Mayweather’s typical 147 fighting weight but near McGregor’s natural fighting weight – is expected to draw a lot of attention and millions of dollars in pay-per-view revenue.

Spearheading the fight’s distribution is Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, who spoke to me Wednesday night to discuss the big event and its potential to break all PPV event performance marks. An edited version of the interview appears below.

Tom Umstead: How did this fight finally come about?

Stephen Espinoza: Not sure anyone would have predicted this a year ago, but what started as a bit of bravado and a challenge thrown out between two mega stars has all of the sudden turned into a main event.

TU: Any suggested retail price for the PPV event?

SE: It’s still being discussed. That’s one of the ironies of the fight: the fighter’s deal got done so quick that was finished before the particulars of the event.

TU: What is the appeal of this fight?

SE: In a sport that’s often filled with hyperbole there really is no exaggeration to say that this event is truly unprecedented – its unprecedented in the nature of the competition: its unprecedented in its magnitude and the attention that it is receiving and will receive; and its unprecedented in the types of personalities that we have participating. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor have taken the art of self-promotion and backed it up with excellence in the ring and elevated into an art form. We’ve certainly had colorful characters in boxing and in MMA before, but to get arguably the two most talked about athletes in each sport taking aim against each other in the same competition adds exponentially to the appeal of the event.

TU: Can this fight break the record of 4.6 million PPV buys set by the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight? 

SE: After that [2015] event I think we all said it would never happen again. I can’t say that it will happen, but what I can say is that the demand for this event and the attention that it has already received are easily on par with Mayweather and Pacquiao if not bigger. This has the advantage of drawing not just from the boxing and the MMA fan bases, but also from the universe of people who have never paid attention to either a boxing match or MMA event before. Due to the nature of the personalities and the nature of the competition, there’s a whole awareness and curiosity that far surpasses any boxing or MMA event – even an event like Mayweather-Pacquiao. So you never say never – if there is something that could break the Mayweather-Pacquiao record, it seems this event could be it.

TU: What do you say to some of the detractors who say the fight makes a mockery of both boxing and MMA?

SE: Combat sports are something that you really can’t predict. The fight could end at any time and it doesn’t matter how far someone is behind – one punch can change everything in one instant. In that context, I don’t think anyone can reliably say what’s going to happen in this fight. Mayweather has been two years away from the sport and is 40 years old, and he is fighting a young, strong MMA champion in the prime of his career in McGregor. He’s 27 years old and he’s significantly bigger than Floyd. Is it unorthodox? Absolutely, and I think that’s part of its appeal. Conor McGregor has made his entire career of proving his doubters wrong.

TU: Do you have enough time to effectively put together a blockbuster PPV event given the Aug. 26 date?

SE: We have three more days than we had for Mayweather-Pacquiao and that turned out OK. The reality is the media market is very different that it has been traditionally, and with the advent of digital marketing providing the ability to reach people much more quickly, I think the days of 90 to 120 days of marketing as a necessity are long gone.  

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.